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Creating a Culture of Safety for Patients and Providers

By Karlene Kerfoot, PhD, MA, BSN; Chief Nursing Officer at symplr

Ensuring patient and staff safety is crucial to the success of any healthcare organization, not just because of legal, regulatory, and reimbursement obligations, but because doing so is in the hospital’s best interest and it’s the right thing to do. Unsafe facilities are stressful environments that accelerate staff burnout, moral injury, and turnover; jeopardize patient safety; and result in a poor patient experience and bad reputation and outcomes for the facility.

A safety culture can be described as the shared perceptions, beliefs, values, and attitudes that combine to create a commitment to safety and a continuous effort to minimize harm.

Defining a culture of safety is the easy part, but how can healthcare leaders go about creating and maintaining one? To effect cultural change, leaders should consider the following safety measures:

Foster communication

In a culture of safety, effective communication is pivotal. Nurses, as a result of their close proximity to patients, must feel especially comfortable flagging existing or potential safety risks to every member of the team.

Open communication across multiple levels is crucial, too. On healthcare teams it’s common for each member to assume someone else is in charge of managing safety, which results in everyone being aware of an issue—and nobody taking the necessary steps to address it. In other words, safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Encourage incident reporting

The overarching goal for healthcare organizations is safety, but a fear of failure doesn’t make a facility safer. Errors often go unreported due to a fear of disciplinary action. Encourage staff to speak up when they see errors or improvement opportunities. If they aren’t supported in doing so, hospitals will miss out on valuable safety feedback from those who are in the best position to provide it.

Facility leaders must make it clear that reporting incidents about near misses will not lead to negative repercussions, except in cases involving extreme carelessness or negligence. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to turn near misses into sustainable improvements in staff and patient safety and quality by carefully analyzing incident reports about “Good Catches.”  In fact, some facilities reward good catches and use this information to rethink the faulty process.

Regularly review safety reports

Safety reports yield valuable insights that can help facilities strengthen their safety practices, but only if there’s a designated party to review them and share the results. Facility leaders should make a habit of regularly reviewing and discussing safety reports with front-line nurses and other clinical staff, both in individual and team settings.

Bringing nurses into the discussion sends a clear message that their safety, and that of their patients, is a priority, and gives hospital administrators the opportunity to get a fresh perspective on how to approach ongoing safety issues.

Create Rapid Response Teams

At least one in 10 patients has experienced an adverse event in a clinical setting, and studies suggest that at least 50% of adverse events are preventable. While a strong culture of safety can reduce preventable adverse events, unfortunately human and system errors will result in incidents and errors that are unavoidable and unforeseeable.

Creating a Rapid Response Team (RRT) gives nurses and other staff the opportunity to practice how they respond to adverse events. Creating and drilling an RRT encourages teamwork and communication and helps to ensure that when—not if—an adverse event occurs, clinical staff are prepared to respond quickly and effectively.

Perform safety rounds with staff

One challenge hospital leaders face when trying to get buy-in from nurses and other clinical staff on cultural change is the perception that leaders don’t understand the challenges clinical staff navigate daily. Nurses don’t expect administrators to be able to jump in when a patient experiences an adverse event, of course, but they do expect leaders to understand how proposed safety protocols or initiatives affect patient care at the bedside.

Invest in safety

If providers and other staff highlight a need for equipment, software, supplies, etc., facility leaders should do their best to meet that need. The costly consequences of failing to do so were exposed during COVID-19, with a lack of personal protective equipment.

Remember, a culture of safety can exist only when everyone works toward the same goal—and that includes leaders. If nurses and other clinical staff members feel unsupported in their efforts to build and preserve a safe environment for all, it won’t be long before the facility’s safety standards begin to slip

For information on how symplr can help your facility or organization achieve a safer environment for every participant across the care continuum, visit the symplr Patient Safety solutions page.